On June 29, 2009, two inmates at the Manatee County Jail filed a pro se lawsuit in the Middle District Court of Florida challenging the constitutionality of the jail’s new mail policy. The inmates filed under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 on behalf of themselves and all others similarly situated at the jail, alleging that the new policy, which only allowed inmates to receive post-cards, was unconstitutional. Additionally, the plaintiffs alleged that jail personnel were opening their privileged mail and were allowing trainees to search legal bins and legal mail without the owner being present, and that the defendants were violating their constitutional rights by allowing trainees to perform training exercises on them and other prisoners, including cavity searches. The plaintiffs asked the court for injunction and declaratory judgment claiming violations of the First and Fourteenth Amendment rights.
On July 8, 2009, the case was dismissed without prejudice, because the plaintiffs raised several unrelated claims in the same complaint. Plaintiffs filed an amended pro se complaint on July 24, 2009, which only challenged the Manatee County Jail mail policy. The Court dismissed the amended complaint without prejudice because the plaintiffs were proceeding pro se and were purporting to bring a class action for themselves and all others similarly situated.
On September 4, 2009, the plaintiffs filed a pro se 42 U.S.C. § 1983 complaint on behalf of themselves and all others similarly situated, alleging that the new mail policy at Manatee County Jail and the Defendants' practice of opening privileged mail and censoring the newspaper given to inmates violated the plaintiffs' constitutional rights.
The court appointed pro bono counsel to the Plaintiffs on October 26, 2009. Plaintiffs' counsel filed an amended complaint on February 18, 2010, claiming that the new mail policy violated the First and Fourteenth Amendment rights of the inmates and the inmates family members and friends. The plaintiffs' group included two inmates and two family members of inmates. The plaintiffs sought injunctive relief.
On April 15, 2010, the defendants filed a motion to dismiss the plaintiffs' complaint. Later, on May 12, 2010, the defendants filed a motion to disqualify Judge Kovachevich for bias or prejudice. The defendants alleged that one of Judge Kovachevich's staff attorneys undertook a factual investigation regarding the plaintiffs' claim. Allegedly, the staff attorney contacted the jail and requested legal precedent regarding the defendants' mail policy. Additionally, the defendants claimed that the staff attorney made a sua sponte request for counsel to represent the plaintiffs.
On May 28, 2010 Judge Elizabeth A. Kovachevich dismissed the plaintiffs' complaint. The court held that postcard only mail policies were reasonably related to penological interests and cited precedent from the Middle District of Florida. Turner v. Safley
, 482 U.S. at 85, 107 S.Ct. 2254 (1987).
On June 23, 2010, the plaintiffs filed a motion for reconsideration of the case. Specifically the plaintiffs argued that the case should be reconsidered because the case was dismissed while there was a pending motion for the recusal of Judge Kovachevich. Furthermore, the court dismissed the case sua sponte before the defendants explained why their practices carried out a legitimate penological interest, nor were the plaintiffs allowed to present evidence to the contrary.
On March 11, 2011 the court issued an order to have both parties report on whether the case was moot before ruling on the plaintiffs’ motion for reconsideration. The order stated that both inmates had been released from the jail and that any argument for granting injunctive relief on account that the plaintiffs might be future inmates was without merit. The plaintiffs’ counsel responded on March 25, 2011 and argued that the case was not moot because the plaintiffs still had standing to seek injunctive and declaratory relief on behalf of the proposed class of persons similarly situated. On March 29, 2011 the defendants responded that the claims were moot because the plaintiffs were no longer inmates and thus no longer had a personal stake in the matter. As of October 15, 2016, there are no new orders regarding the motion, and the Manatee County Jail
still has a strict post-card old policy in place.Joe Reiter - 05/12/2011
Maurice Youkanna - 07/04/2014
Abigail DeHart - 10/14/2016